Unique Self Essay by Julia Press, M.S.W.
Let me begin by telling you that until about a month ago, I had not known of Marc Gafni. My husband introduced me to Marc’s Internet videos on Unique Self. With enthusiasm he told me that Marc was saying so many of the things I have been bringing forward to our gathering community. Upon watching the videos, the joy that burst forth from within me was beyond description. I immediately sent away for YOUR UNIQUE SELF and RADICAL KABBALAH, Books 1 and 2. I feasted on these sacred writings on each of the following three weekends. Page after page, Marc was describing the very experiences and understandings that have unfolded over the years of my own being’s evolution and in my work midwifing souls on the path of consciousness. I felt I had known Marc for years. For me, there is the added nectar of Marc’s saturation with Kabbalah which has been and is in great part my own portal and path into the deep mystical realms of understanding and living life. His soul nourishes the moshiach (messiah) consciousness alive in and as my being and that I know and have spoken to be the sacred birthright of each and every one of us. I am also deeply moved by Marc’s courage in putting himself out there at the cutting edge so publicly. This is great holy vulnerability. I have often defined vulnerability as being available – available to what arises that reaches beyond the norm of the ego’s dualistic understanding and that dances into the kind of vision, knowing and living that is birthed through non-dual, enlightened perception. I feel I have found a new brother and sacred friend. I extend a deeply heartfelt thank you to you, Marc.
Having told you a little about how Marc’s writing resonates in me personally, I’d like to now weave in how his cutting-edge books interface with my work in the world. Marc describes so beautifully, heartfully and in blessed detail, the very evolving process I/we have been quietly exploring in our particular ecumenical group of soul friends the last 25-30 years: to use Marc’s terms, calling out our Unique Selves in and as the context of the We Space of the one True Self. In my vocabulary, I have spoken of and encouraged the New Human expressing one’s particularness in, around, through and as the one I Amness, True Nature.
Over the course of the many years working with the gathering community that I originally called together and facilitated, I developed a psycho-spiritual system of ego clarification which I have called the Sphere of Being. This process draws heavily from psychosynthesis tools and philosophy, as well as from other wonderful sources which I have expanded on and beyond as my own evolving nature perceived things newly. Jacob’s ladder comes to mind. In Jacob’s dream, he sees a ladder with angels both ascending from earth to heaven and also descending from heaven to earth. To release imprisoned sparks of the Divine from the ego into greater expansion and understanding and to bring down sparks from heaven to soften the hold of the ego, we explore and work multi-dimensionally. In our circle, with our Sphere of Being map we have brought this unfolding clarification and expansion forward over and over again through each of us in the context of that unified field of consciousness that I call Mystical Body. The people in our community have given me the unspeakably precious gift of their trust and I deeply, on-goingly call myself to the best in me to honor that sacred trust. I gather with these soul friends, from many walks of life and several countries, usually four times a year for retreats of varying duration. They regularly meet independently with one another during the course of a year in their local communities. During the year I am in contact by phone and email.
A pivotal experience that came to me in my thirties has been a key part of the foundation for the work I have developed with people. In meditation the image and understanding of concentric spheres of varying sizes reaching to Infinity was given to me – spheres with a common center, and so, nestled one within the next and the others. The experience brought home the living reality of everything being included and having value of some kind in the evolving process of my soul, of everything being a part of God, the All. I saw so clearly, felt experientially how the smaller spheres were limited in what they could perceive, experience and know of the Divine, of Consciousness. I came upon the understanding of seeing how the presence of I Amness softens the membranes of the smaller spheres and makes them more porous so that they transform and can release the gems of God-qualities locked inside in some distorted, relative, limited and limiting fashion. A kind of process of relaxing the ego made space for the Divine, for one’s already Wholeness to emerge organically. Wonderfully there is a presence of simultaneity of dimensions where, even as the ego runs its cinema, there is the New Human/Unique Self that unfolds a process of lovingly relating to, yet firmly challenging these egoic dynamics without collapsing into them. I would often ask of myself and others: Who is saying that? Who is thinking that? Where have you assembled yourself? Who is it that is defining love, friendship, marriage, commitment, duty, etc.? It became so clear that every word or idea meant something different when viewed through the lens of non-duality in contrast to viewing through the egoic lens.
I’d like to stress an important point here. The differences in perception bring about radical understandings which are state bound. In a non-dual state of awareness one can know and act from an understanding that may seem to disappear if one shifts back to the dualistic perception. This is when the skeptic in consciousness can arise, causing self-doubt, confusion and forgetfulness within oneself and bringing forward all the separating and judging characteristics of the egoic state of duality. Furthermore, if the process within oneself is fraught with vulnerability, then the process between oneself and another is exponentially more complex and vulnerable. Two people may understand, speak and act from the same state of consciousness initially, but one may shift back to the dualistic perception without the experience of a simultaneous steady-state existence of the non-dual perception. Here is where many painful situations arise in our lives and where we are called upon to be as kind with one another as is possible without abandoning our healthy, sacred sense of discernment and self-care and also without judging, rejecting and attacking. In our group, we have also deeply been exploring an auxiliary aspect of this state-bound consciousness principle: what we call “the spiritual imposter,” an egoic subpersonality that co-opts what belongs to the non-dual perspective and that can wreak havoc with one’s life and/or with another’s.
In our group process, at times strong emotions burst forward. Contrary to what some might think as this not being spiritual, I have called the emotional release process a Divine Decongestant, loosening up a blocked place to see what was hidden and held down in the shadows, to allow through a greater flow of The Presence, of Shechinah. What makes a difference is the context for the emotional release. There is emotional release to further feed the ego’s structure (a clenching of one’s heart in contraction that aims to hurt/blame oneself and/or another) and there is emotional/feeling need in the service of furthering the welcome of The Presence (a breaking open of the heart where one explores oneself to become more aware and to expand). The first tends to blame/judge another, to make oneself a victim and to create disconnection; the second recognizes the work as one’s own and fosters connection, even amidst disagreement. Individually and as a group we have shifted significantly to the latter.
I myself have come forward from and as a palpable energy that I experience as Sacred Presence, Shechinah. This is nothing I create. It is simply who/what I am. It is a presence I cherish and nourish. This union with Divine Presence, in my younger years, at first came seemingly from God outside of me and saturating, penetrating me. At first, these experiences lasted a few moments, then hours and then days at a time, to culminate one day (in my professional workplace in a hospital) in the experience of being a constant for me, as me. The experience of my being extends out from and as The Presence beyond my physical form even as it saturates and embraces my body, psyche and Unique Self lovingly. My ego has no control over The Presence. Somehow, Shechinah modulates itself, herself in me in relationship to the situation at hand, to the soul(s) present at the moment. At this point in time, from the very first evening of any of our gatherings, when we join hands, our circle of sisters and brothers immediately falls into that Mystical Body/We Space of a unified field of consciousness. In a variety of ways, each person in the circle recognizes that palpable feeling of energetic Presence on her own, describing and expressing it in a way unique to her experience and background.
In the early years of gathering, in response to what people brought forward into the circle, I would midwife individual and group process spontaneously by creating meditations and activities to invite the members to come to the edge of their boundaries and to stretch beyond those edges into the next experience of Unknowing, unique for each. To varying degrees, this was understandably difficult for people. What ego wants to give up control! When Sacred Presence, Shechinah would naturally come forward to increase expansion when the collective was ready, people would often experience anxiety, fear and unconsciously contract into egoic states to hold onto something familiar for comfort. Invariably a conflict of some sort would be precipitated that kept familiar egoic boundaries and separation intact. On my part, it took much repetition and pointing out to my dear sisters and brothers when this unconscious move to contract would happen and why. For a long while now, they recognize this critical juncture themselves and, as a collective, make the choice to stay open, to be vulnerable, to be available to Divine Presence and The New. My dear friends’ trust in themselves and one another has grown exponentially. What has transpired over time is truly beautiful.
There are additional wonderful by-products of growing in the ability to rest into and as Mystical Body. People now are so much more uniquely themselves than ever before and the sharing in circle has markedly increased as awakened intimacy, rather than the sharing of ego stories to feel close, to be seen and heard, to be ego-bolstered. There is far less collusion between egos (“making nice” and rescuing another in the hopes of being rescued when one’s own ego would need that) in order to feel falsely safe, connected and liked/loved. There is also far less judgment happening of oneself and of others. When egoic judgment arises, as it will and does, individuals are very willing to be called to look at themselves, explore their contractions, rather than to attack or reject another. Essentially, there has been a marked degree of psychological and spiritual maturity that has unfolded individually and as a Mystical Body. Of course, this growth is highly individual, as we span a wide range of psychological, intellectual, educational, professional and spiritual development.
We also have come to know another sign that shows us whether we are operating predominantly from Mystical Body or more from a state of egoic dualism. When we are moving from a state of non-dualism, there is the indescribable feeling-experience that when any one soul spontaneously speaks, prays, dances or sings his heart into the circle, he has come forth so uniquely himself that we know this is exactly what the collective body needs in this moment. It is utterly filling. There is no need to quickly jump in with one’s own similar story, like a small child tugging, “Me, too, me, too!” as if what someone else is saying diminishes or excludes oneself. There is quiet space around the sharing, an energetic after-glow, if you will, so we can truly take in and taste that person’s offering, be nourished by and celebrate him as well as drink of the increased experience of Shechinah that his sharing has evoked. If we do move into that fast, consecutive sharing, (and we still do, although it is far, far less), we watch how the energy drops palpably, how Shechinah recedes to the wings of Life’s stage, waiting for her to be welcomed again. Then someone (Blessedly it is no longer only I) calls this pattern to our attention and we become quiet so that each one, in her own way, can call herself back to the moment and to her Vaster Nature. It is then that we spontaneously drink of Divine Presence as it speaks to us silently before the next soul is organically moved to bring herself forward creatively and in the moment. When Shechinah returns to embrace us, to pulse through us and as us, then the exquisite feeling of being highly specialized cells on one body returns; and with that we continue being available to the edge, to new territory and the treasures it brings. We continue to explore this wondrous gift of Mystical Body on-goingly, this being particular cells on the one body of God.
In addition to these gifts of integrating Shechinah, the inquiry we have done over the years has reached a point where people have clarified and now recognize, are conscious of, in great part, what their key ego dynamics/stories are. The ego has become more porous and relaxed. The need to pay attention to the content of their thoughts has significantly evolved into the paying attention to the structure of the thoughts (i.e., Where have I assembled myself?), whereby that recognition results in a much quicker return to I Amness, sometimes just by asking this question, with kindness, of oneself or of another, or even by a few breaths into the heart. Then a bringing forward Unique Selves happens again spontaneously. It is a holy dance . . . .
There is one last important observation I want to share with you. Over time, people have related with me increasingly in the spirit of Divine Friendship rather than through an egoic hierarchy of teacher and pupil. From my heart and soul, years back I directly invited this Unique Self friendship and my wonderful brothers and sisters have responded so openly and heartfully. We keep consciously exploring and addressing the edge of reintegrating me, in my own fullness and humanness, into the group from this expanded perspective. We watch for subtle evidence of separation through needing to diminish or aggrandize “the teacher” or oneself. Members of the circle are taking on the mantle of midwife-of-the-moment by stepping forward spontaneously more and more of the time with creative expressions from their particular repertoires of being and background. I facilitate a minimum of exercises at this time. We have grown together incredibly. As a group we have moved from a predominance of either/or to more of both/and (paradox). The spirit is one of increased kindness, each one toward herself and also toward the other, even and especially when very difficult and sensitive situations have arisen for individuals. These are the vulnerable times we call ourselves to living what we profess, to “walking the talk.” There is still human contraction, for there is always more to go in the process of evolution. We do not by-pass that inquiry. At the same time, we use these situations to summon each other to the best in us. We continually call ourselves to be open to the new edge-of-the-moment, greater expansion and integration. Individually and as a collective we have moved substantially in the direction of and have increasingly embodied the attributes of the left column over predominance with what is in the right column.
|Non-dualistic, True Self perception/understanding||Dualistic, egoic perception/understanding|
|Absolute/Full Reality||Relative, limited reality|
|Both/and (seeming paradox)||Either/or|
|Inner oriented/directed||Outer oriented/directed|
|Open and available||Guarded, closed|
|Here-and-Now oriented||Past-and-Future oriented|
|Multi-dimensional beyond 3||3-dimensional|
|Immediate/Direct Knowing thru Being||Learned knowing thru conditioning|
|Awakened ordinariness||Asleep ordinariness|
|Celebrating other||Envious of other, competing with other|
|Seeking truth, understanding & healing||Joining toxicity of gossiping/attacking/malice|
|Feeling “equal” and unique||Feeling better than or less than|
|Deep Divine feelings||Egoic hyper-emotionality|
|Master of one’s life||Victim of life|
|Free, soulfully daring||Inhibited by fear|
Each time we gather, we consciously consecrate ourselves to inviting the highest good for each one of us and thus the greatest good for The Whole, not only for those of us in the room where we speak and dance and pray, but for the whole cosmos and out to galaxies beyond that hold Mystery as yet unknown. We send our love out to all points on the globe. And after we gather, we go home to our families, our friends and our colleagues at work, committed to carrying the new vibration and expansion there as best we can in each moment.
One of my dearest friends and sister on the path, who was a wonderful presence in our community for some 25 years, died in April of 2012. We continue to celebrate her soul beauty even as we feel the loss of her physical presence with us. She has left us the gift of her prose and poetry. She wrote this poem in response to the question “What do you do when you gather?” that she was often asked by friends and family.
WHAT DO WE DO WHEN WE GATHER?
we sit in silence,
inviting the Divine,
we speak from unknowing;
listen from our hearts
we walk slowly, taking
one small step at a time
we enter dark hallways
and explore the valley of shadows
we roll with laughter; we sob
we shake; we play
and dance, half crazed,
wild, fully alive
sometimes we stumble and fall
and the earth cracks apart
when the Divine in us is awakened
we breathe as one radiant being
we turn off the lights and see
ourselves shine in the darkness
we sit in Sacred Circle
and know the Presence of God
by Judith A. Goren
I would like to offer a Hebrew prayer to the One, or whatever any of us calls The Something More that continues to uniquely evolve non-separation and love as each of us. It is a Mystical Body prayer that I carry in my heart at all times and that we have invoked aloud in our gathering circle on numerous occasions when the edge of The New beckons us to share its bread and wine. I invoke it here with you, new-found, heartful and standing-on-the-edge friends. I pray, “Hazahk, hazahk, v’nees hazayk. Strengthen us, strengthen us, and we shall strengthen each other.”
Thank you for this opportunity to share my heart with you into this circle. Thank you, Marc, for your gentle and respectful invitation to do so. Stepping forward here is evoking in me a sacred, subtle trembling that is reaching out to Infinity. The unfolding meaning of this act of “yes” I know I shall discover as I stay open to Mystery and keep walking . . . .
Julia Press, M.S.W., is a devoted student of Divine Mystery Unfolding. Her focus personally and professionally is with the sacred union of Heaven and Earth, of Spirit and Flesh, as it serves the New Human evolving in everyday life. She holds a B.A in Human and Community Services: Humanistic Counseling from Empire State College of New York and an M.S.W. from Boston University. Over the years she has served as clinical social worker in a variety of settings (school, mental health centers, hospitals and hospice) as well as having had a full private psychotherapy practice. In the early 80’s, she answered her inner God-urging to work full time with souls on the path of consciousness. She has been a spiritual midwife for individuals, couples and groups for 40 years where her call to her sisters and brothers is to their Indwelling Divinity and its expression into Life. Julia has been married for 50 years to her heartful rabbi husband, Allan, in a relationship that has been held by love and that has also vulnerably navigated the waters of life-changing challenges and too-many-to-count radical transitions. She is Mom to three loving, married adult children and their wonderful spouses and Grandma to four precious grandchildren.